I was given a Polaroid camera when I was a teenager that I loved. I liked the look of the photos and the ability to have photos developed instantly. In the course of creating my family archives, I found many of those old photographs and wondered what was the best way to preserve them.
Polaroids are not archival and were not meant to last forever. They were designed for instant gratification. Compared to other mediums, instant photographs are fragile, especially because the chemicals used in the development process are still in the print and can continue to affect its aging process. As you can see in the Polaroid above, there are rips, tape marks, and stains on this much-loved photo; I know better now.
The process of preserving your instant photos is the same as other photographs. Some Polaroids yellow, fade, or become brittle, but there are steps that you can take to lessen the damage to them over time:
- Keep Polaroids out of direct sunlight, moisture (high humidity), and temperature fluctuations.
- When you’re handling Polaroids, hold them by their corners with clean hands. Oil and dirt from your hands can damage or smudge the photos.
- Let images dry for several weeks before storing them.
- Never store them in magnetic albums, or albums made from PVA or PVC, which are types of plastic that can damage photos. If an album smells strongly of chemicals, do not use it.
- Never cut Polaroids, which can damage them.
- Dark storage is recommended to prevent fading, although yellowing can occur in lights areas of the print, even when they are stored in the dark.
- Store them flat, as prints on their side can yellow more than those that are flat.
- Store them in acid-free photo boxes, enclosures, and albums. Storage items should also pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT), an international standard test for evaluating photo-storage and display products. Archival storage companies sell these items. One possible storage option are pages that store 8 Polaroids per sheet, such as these:
Do you have suggestions on how to preserve your Polaroids?
To learn the preservation secrets used by libraries, archives, and museums to protect their priceless materials (that you can also use for your family heritage items) read my book:
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